TV Commentary: The Office Says Goodbye to Michael Scott

The Office has a history of flawlessly handling monumental episodes that require a balance of humor and heart—Jim and Pam’s wedding in season six was particularly stellar. Though Steve Carell’s last episode was uneven at times, overall it served as a great send-off to a beloved character and a fantastic actor.

By Molly Jay.

Steve Carell (Micheal Scott) leaves THE OFFICE in style. He will be missed.

Michael Scott got it right on last week’s episode of The Office. After his staff serenaded him with a song about his time at Dunder Mifflin (to the tune of “Seasons of Love” from Rent), Michael spoke to the camera about his last days at work and, eyes full of tears, concluded, “Well, this is going to hurt like a motherf*****.” Yes, it did.

After last week’s dynamite episode, it was clear that saying goodbye to the self-proclaimed World’s Best Boss was going to be a bittersweet mixture of laughter and tears. But perhaps what this episode did best was celebrate how far this formerly unlikeable character has come. Instead of relishing in a large party revolving around himself, Michael decided to leave Dunder Mifflin a day early, his personal goodbyes to his coworkers veiled in “I’ll see you tomorrow” secrecy.

He gave gifts to most employees—some material, some in the form of words of wisdom—and almost got off scot-free, until Jim figured out his early exit plan. In what was one of the most touching scenes of the episode, Michael admitted to Jim that he was leaving at 4 p.m., not the following day. Jim nodded and then replied that he would save his goodbyes until tomorrow, when he would tell him what a great boss he was—the best boss he’s ever had.

Looking back to the first season, this exchange would have felt bizarre and illogical. Michael was introduced as a self-absorbed clown who was anything but respected by his employees. But after seven seasons of growth, he transformed from a one-dimensional buffoon into a fully realized, unlikely hero of sorts, highlighted in season three’s episode “Business School,” in which he celebrates Pam’s artwork like a proud father. Throughout the show, while Michael has never lost his far-from-perfect quirks, he’s become both likable and lovable, making his flaws easier to accept, understand, and appreciate. So, during his final days, it was believable that his employees would want to go out of their ways to genuinely commemorate his departure from the company. Their vested interest in his last day felt natural and fitting.

However, while Steve Carell’s last episode was heavy on the heartstrings, much of the sentiment of his exit was undercut by some distracting “comedy” from the show’s guest star, Will Ferrell. One of the episode’s subplots revolved around Will Ferrell’s character Deangelo Vickers, the man hired to replace Michael, and the fact that he may not be the competent leader and strong salesman that he was first believed to be.

Unfortunately, this story line made Deangelo’s character increasingly unlikable and highlighted the bitterness in the bittersweet episode. While Carell and Ferrell are equitable comedic gold, Deangelo Vickers is no Michael Scott. Seeing Deangelo begin to unravel didn’t emphasize Michael’s strengths. Instead it called depressing attention to the fact that The Office was losing the man who, on many levels, is the heart of its show.

Things will never be the same at THE OFFICE.

Clearly the show needed additional story lines to balance Michael’s exit—the Erin/Gabe subplot fit perfectly—but the focus on Deangelo felt a bit jarring, as Ferrell joined the cast just two weeks earlier. While it’s good the episode didn’t completely ignore Deangelo’s presence, as his character has been a huge part of the show since he arrived, his involvement seemed a bit forced. With a situation as monumental as this, it would have felt more satisfying to have the subplot relate to one of the central cast members—perhaps Pam’s quest to see The King’s Speech during work, or focusing solely on Andy’s anxiety about taking on Michael’s most important clients. Ferrell is a wonderful and hilarious talent, but Deangelo’s antics felt a bit off-kilter with the rest of the cast’s established, well-gelled style of comedy.

Though the show may have been stronger had it ended with Pam watching Michael’s plane fly away—Deangelo’s cake meltdown was a particularly offbeat ending to a generally sweet and solid episode—the writers should get a lot of credit for several flashes of pure genius that shined throughout the hour-long program.

We were treated to a few wonderful elements from seasons’ past, such as an appearance by Michael’s offensive character Ping, Michael’s obsession with the baler in the warehouse, and the original party planning committee. But perhaps the funniest part of all came at the end of the episode, when Michael was at the airport. After going through security, before heading to the terminal, Michael stopped to bid farewell to the documentary team that has been filming his office. Tying his shoes, he turned to the camera crew with eyes full of heartfelt sincerity and said, “Well, I guess this is it. Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?” Brilliant. He then took his microphone off and handed the battery pack to the crew, commenting on how good it will feel to get that thing off his chest, adding on a never-more-appropriate “That’s what she said.” And really, is there any other phrase more fitting to be the last statement uttered by Michael Scott? Simply perfect.

The Office has a history of flawlessly handling monumental episodes that require a balance of humor and heart—Jim and Pam’s wedding in season six was particularly stellar. Though Steve Carell’s last episode was uneven at times, overall it served as a great send-off to a beloved character and a fantastic actor. The show should be able to continue on just fine without Carell—thanks to a talented group of writers, producers and a strong ensemble cast—but it’s undeniable that his exit will make an impact. As Jim so succinctly told Michael, who asked whether leaving was a mistake, “Absolutely not. It’s just that sometimes, goodbyes are a bitch.”

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  1. Paul G on May 2, 2011 at 11:49 am

    As a devoted fan of The Office, I think your description/commentary of Michael’s last episode was spot on! Yet another wonderful piece by Molly Jay!

  2. Carolyn on May 2, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    You captured my experience of “The Departure” so perfectly…with its many strengths and its few flaws. Thanks for this beautifully written, reflective piece…

  3. Ed on May 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I am an admirer of the Office, though not a devoted watcher. The weakness of the episode, as I saw it, was that Will Ferrell’s broad comedic style clashed at times with the more understated style of the ensemble cast. Were I the director, I would have had Ferrell tone down his performance considerably so that he blended more and stood out less. When he grabbed a fistful of cake at the end, I was shocked more than amused and I thought it undercut Carell’s brilliant, almost Chaplinesque departure in the previous scene at the airport. On balance, though, I am quibbling and the Office truly outdid itself in giving Michael Scott the perfect send off.

    • elinor on May 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      ED–What do you mean by Chaplinesque?

      • Ed on May 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

        EL- By “Chaplinesque” I was referring, in particular, to the scene where the rumpled figure of Michael Scott disappears in the distance down the gateway to the airplane with his little carry-on suitcase trailing forlornly behind. The image had all the poignancy of the Little Tramp trudging off to meet his future. Frankly I would have ended the show there. Sentimental? Trite? I won‘t argue except to say that it works for me. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.

        • Stewart on April 26, 2020 at 1:37 pm

          More than “Chaplinesque,” that image recalls for me the image of another salesman, the cover image of a forlorn Willy Loman from behind on my paperback copy of Death of a Salesman.

  4. Stweart on April 26, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    I would note further that these and other images of Michael tell us less about his character than the dynamic of his character as a whole, and the dynamic of his interaction with the rest of the cast. Considering these dimensions of Michael we can see the relentlessly madcap Michael playing off the rest of the cast, contrasted with the calming influence Holly has on him. His peaceful, self assured reflections at the end of the company picnic episode on the long term development of his relationship with her are a seldom seen side of Michael.

    And given that Michael and Holly were just one of various couples who survived many plot twists and turns before getting together, we are reminded of how the show as a whole mirrored real life. We have all made small, seemingly insignificant decisions during the hubbub of daily living that in retrospect can be seen to have changed the course of our entire life, hopefully for the better. That is a reminder of something I learned along the way. If you are happy with your life now, have no regrets about the past. It was probably the only way to get there. That for me is an important lesson reinforced by the show.

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